A Cool Writing Phenomenon in M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Split’

If you haven’t already, please see M. Night Shyamalan’s new film Split—not just because it’s great, but because you shouldn’t read this blog post if you haven’t seen it, since there will be spoilers at a certain point. (I’ll let you know when.)

There’s a thing that happens when you write a thing, and go through drafts of writing a thing, where sometimes you have to entirely scrap major plot stuff that, while great, for some reason isn’t structurally sound and unfortunately can’t be fixed. The thing is though, because it was ever there, it’s kind of always there—erase all you want, there will still be the marks of it, like when you squint at pencil you’ve erased and can see the indents of the marks in the paper.

Because of that, I’ve decided to call this phenomenon (which I don’t think has ever had a name) erased pencil marks.

Split has some significant erased pencil marks in it. And yes, M. Night is a twisty filmmaker, but no, this isn’t the case of a red herring deliberately put in the film in order to mislead the audience. I mean, sure, it may effectively do that for a few viewers (probably just me) but unintentionally so.

If it were intentional, the plot he chose over this one would have been more interesting, more clever, rather than simply less clever (but apparently more functional, since he used it instead).

Because, by their very nature, the erased pencil marks are so hard to see, I’ll tell you them. And once I do, you’ll never not see them when you watch the movie, and hell, never not think about them when you even think about the movie.

*SPOILER BUFFER SPACE*

*SPOILER BUFFER SPACE*

*SPOILER BUFFER SPACE*

Kevin is Casey’s older brother.

That is why, when he hijacked the car, he sprayed the two other girls and only sprayed Casey when he she tried to escape and he absolutely had to.

She is not as nervous as the other two when held captive because she believes he won’t hurt them or touch them inappropriately. She doesn’t tell them he’s her brother because she thinks she can reach him, can get him to let them go, without having to. And, she is not even sure how far gone he is—he may not even recognize her anymore.

The flashbacks throughout the film of young Casey and her father hunting are to underscore the fact that she had a strong relationship with her father and her brother didn’t. He missed out on all that bonding due to his mental illness. (These scenes are also, of course, about more than just hunting—he’s training her to be able to defend herself against her brother, i.e., put him down like animal, if ever it should come to that.)

The whole reason for hiding his last name until the third act was so that it could be revealed, as the twist, that his last name is same as Casey’s, and is her brother. This adds deeper meaning to the fact that in order to defeat him she has to say his full name—acknowledging, out loud, who he is, which she has fear about. (The twist also gives the audience a delayed ‘eww!’ as they remember the scene where they kissed.)

Cool, right?

Very cool, but didn’t fully work apparently or else M. Night would have done it. Like I said, sometimes great ideas just have to get axed for the overall sake of the thing.

I of course have absolutely no proof this plot was ever even swirling around in M. Night’s head. But I’m pretty sure it was—it’s too good an idea for someone working on the story to not have thought of it while working on it. If I ever cross paths with him, I’ll ask him.